The Show Must Go On
Thirty-five minutes into the first preseason football practice Wednesday at North Hagerstown, assistant coach Terry Harnish realized there was some necessary equipment missing — the footballs.
As Harnish and two other assistants departed to find the pigskins, it was less apparent that there was another essential element missing — a head coach.
It was a week ago that Dan Cunningham, head coach at North for the last 13 seasons, departed to take the athletic director job at Williamsport.
On Wednesday afternoon, defensive coordinator Greg Stains and offensive coordinator Juwuane Sandridge ran a crisp, three-hour workout. One of the two is likely to be named head coach soon.
Stains said that he expects the decision to come Monday.
"It went well," Stains said of practice. "Under the circumstances and the adversity that we're under, I think you couldn't ask for anything more from the kids than they gave us. It's just something we've got to build and go day to day."
Given the timing of Cunningham's departure, one might expect the Hubs to be running practice just as they have in the past. But on Wednesday, the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams worked out together, breaking from past tradition.
"It's a different year — a little bit of rebuilding going on," Sandridge said. "We're working as hard as we can to get the best group of guys on the field as possible. We just want the ones who work the hardest to get the playing time, no matter if you're a freshman, sophomore or junior."
It was one of the seniors who took a leadership role in the first practice. When 6-4, 235-pound Aaron Dopson heard some unnecessary chatter during a conditioning drill, he confronted his teammate.
"What is it you don't understand about 'shut up,'" Dopson yelled, adding a few more colorful words for emphasis.
Dopson didn't sound concerned that the departure of Cunningham puts North Hagerstown at a disadvantage.
"We all wish it would have happened a lot sooner than it did," Dopson said. "But I think we have a great coaching staff that'll make what we have, and what we're left with, work. Coach Cunningham was a great guy and left the program in a great place, so I've got nothing bad to say."
In many ways, Wednesday's practice was businessas usual, with all the customary warnings to players that their idyllic summer is over.
"This isn't Xbox," barked assistant Dave Foltz as some of his players struggled through a conditioning station. "This is real football, gentlemen."
Moments earlier, Stains told the entire team of this preseason: "This isn't a jog, it's a sprint."
Doing his best to live up to Stains' order was one of the fastest Hubs, Preston Carey. The versatile senior, who plays all of the offensive skill positions, said that the Hubs are comfortable with the coaching uncertainty.
"It obviously feels a little different," Carey said. "And it's a little bit of a scramble right now. But we got a whole group of coaches who really care about the kids. They really want to win games, too, and they care about us in the classroom and on the field."
Cunningham's decision didn't take North by complete surprise. He informed the coaches of his possible departure a month earlier, which allowed the staff to meet in early July and make contingency plans.
"We just kind of figured we'd set things up and whoever came in and took over as head coach, they would at least have a base from which to go with," Stains said. "We structured practice and decided to do some things differently."
Another change is the offensive set. On Wednesday, the Hubs ran out of a pistol formation, a departure from last year's multiple offense.
"We lost a lot of big linemen, so this offense suits our personnel a little better," said Sandridge, formerly the head coach at Saint James. "A lot of speed. We're trying to cater to that."
After practice, as Sandridge and Stains tossed ideas and observations back and forth, it was evident that they were working together as associates and friends.
In a few days, one will likely be working for the other.
"It's a difficult situation," Sandridge said. "But we know whoever gets it, the program will be in good hands. We all want the same thing — the best for the program no matter what."